Categories
Spirits Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Stagg Jr. Bourbon

Stagg jrStagg Jr.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grade: five stars(Highest Recommendation)
Price: $50 (750ml)


Buffalo Trace Distillery
has long been one of the most aggressive whiskey outfits when it comes to experimenting with and producing new bourbons. Their latest is one that's already generating a great deal of interest: Stagg Jr.

A younger version of the highly sought-after George T. Stagg Bourbon, this new bottling is, like its Dad, barrel-proof, uncut and unfiltered; clearly a whiskey designed to appeal to the bourbon connoisseur.

The first batch of Stagg Jr. comes from barrels aged for eight or nine years. (The regular Stagg is aged for at least 15 years.) So it's not a young bourbon by any means. It's coming in at a whopping 134.4 proof (67.2% ABV).

The aroma of the Stagg, Jr. bursts out of the glass. Rich, candied fruit, with moderate ethanol fumes. You can tell it's going to be a strong one.

Taking a few sips, I immediately tasted a burst of caramel sweetness, followed by a delicious grain flavor, and finally closing with a lingering spicy finish. It has quite a kick, but it's a welcome one. This is definitely a hot spirit, but not an overpowering one.

A splash of water brought out even more of the unctuous, almost honeyed sweetness. Stagg is made from Buffalo Trace's "Mash Bill #1," which is their low-rye version, containing a higher percentage of corn. Even so, you can taste the rye influence. There are some pumpkin pie spice hints of cinnamon and clove that help balance out the sweetness.

Stagg jr bourbonInterestingly enough, just a little more water overpowered the spirit. You'd think that a bourbon this strong could handle a lot of dilution, but I found that the flavor started to drown very quickly. So add water with a very strict hand.

I have not had the pleasure of tasting the original George T. Stagg, nor many of the other highly acclaimed bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle. But I am quite confident when I say that this is the best bourbon I've ever tasted.

Expect this whiskey to be almost impossible to find. Once it hits the shelves, people are going to swarm on it like locusts. Stagg Jr. will be available in select markets beginning in August of this year — but not for long.

Categories
Gin Gin Reviews Spirits Reviews

Gin Review: Aviation Gin


Aviation ginAviation Gin

American Gin
Grade:four stars(Superb)
Price: $28 (750ml)

First launched in 2006 as one of the pioneers of the new trend in American gins, Aviation has been repackaged with a striking new look that classes up the bottle to match the contents.

Aviation tastes like gin, but not the gin we're used to. It has the requisite juniper flavor, but it's much more subtle than in London dry gin. (That makes this a nice alternative for those who find gin too piney.) It has pronounced notes of citrus and spice, and an almost briny character that would probably go great in a Martini.

Aviation is softer than most gins. A little more inviting. It's designed to be used in cocktails, especially those from the pre-Prohibition era. But you can certainly drink it straight if you want to, and won't be disappointed.

I didn't make a Martini (or an Aviation, this gin's namesake cocktail), but I did mix it in a Gin and Tonic. I was concerned that the less assertive character of this spirit would get lost in the mix. But no fear. It balanced quite nicely, making for a tasty, refreshing cocktail that is dangerously easy to drink.

Aviation Gin is 84-proof, but never harsh. It's a different style of gin than the norm, but that's a good thing. Tasty alternatives are always welcome, and Aviation Gin matches up quite nicely on that score.

Categories
Press Releases Whiskey

Buffalo Trace Distillery Plays with Fire

I'm always fascinated with the things being done by Buffalo Trace Distillery. They're constantly experimenting, trying to find new ways to make fine bourbon. A lot of them don't work, but that's just part of the fun. Here's their latest, which sounds like it produced some good results.

Just in time for colder weather, Buffalo Trace Distillery offers a solution to your winter chills. The latest Experimental Collection bourbons both survived the heat. The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon Whiskey and #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey are the two latest offerings from the Kentucky distillery.

Both of these experiments study the effects of extreme heat on oak barrels and the flavor of the bourbon inside.

The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon involved placing the barrel staves into a “Hot Box” at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the staves were steamed before being assembled into a barrel. The goal was to drive the flavors deep into the wood.  Next the barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 16 years and 8 months.  The resulting bourbon is a well-balanced whiskey with fruity notes complimented by a caramel and buttery taste. 

The #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey experiment used barrels which were charred for 3.5 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 second char used by Buffalo Trace typically.  The barrels were then filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 15 years and 9 months.  The end result is a bourbon with an oaky aroma followed by a body that is heavy and complex. A smoky and robust flavor, with fantastic woody notes and hints of vanilla, fruit and tannin.  It is dry and balanced.  

“Toying with barrels is fun and interesting. It’s quite dramatic to see how something as simple as an extra heavy barrel char can influence the taste of bourbon,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “Both of these experiments yielded very interesting and balanced flavor profiles that I think most people will enjoy tasting.” 

These “hot” barrels are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks, and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Experimental Collection will be packaged in 375ml bottles. Each label will include all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskeys will retail for approximately $46.35 each. These rare experimental bottles should be available in late January or early February. For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, please contact Kris Comstock at kcomstock@buffalotrace.com.

Hot Box Barrel Toast & Heavy Char #7

Categories
Cocktail of the Day Drink Recipes Vodka

Cocktail of the Day: Caramel Apple Cosmo

AppleCaramel Apple Cosmo

1 1/2 oz Van Gogh Wild Appel Vodka
1/2 oz Van Gogh Dutch Caramel Vodka
1/2 oz Licor 43
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Cranberry Juice

Shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A lot of cocktail people look down their noses at vodka, especially flavored vodka. I don't get it myself. I've always been a fan of vodka, and I enjoy experimenting with the flavored variety in different drinks. They're certainly not the first thing I reach for, but that doesn't mean they should never be used.

This was based on a recipe I found in Gaz Regan's book. It has delicious fall flavors and has quickly become one of my wife's favorite drinks.

You don't need to use the Van Gogh brand vodkas, although I've found these varieties to be very tasty. The Sobieski Karamel is also good.

If you don't have any Licor 43, you can replace it with a little simple syrup. It's not going to taste quite the same — the Licor 43 has a very nice sweet vanilla flavor — but it'll give you the general idea.

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Bourbon


John Bowman BourbonJohn J. Bowman Single Barrel

Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grade: three stars(Above Average)
Price: $50 (750ml)

I've been a resident of the Old Dominion for the past ten years, so I have a particular interest in Virginia spirits. This is especially true when it comes to the products made by A. Smith Bowman, since I lived just a few miles from the site of their old distillery for a big chunk of that decade.

The Bowman distillery was founded shortly after the end of Prohibition in a part of Northern Virginia that at the time was still very rural. Despite being less than twenty miles from Washington, DC, the area consisted mostly of farms and forestland.

Abraham Bowman and his sons began making whiskey there in 1934, and the company continued doing so for over fifty years, most of it sold under the Virginia Gentleman label. Although it is commonly believed that bourbon must be made in the state of Kentucky, this is not true. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. In fact, when settlers first started making bourbon in Kentucky, it was still part of Virginia.

As Northern Virginia became increasingly developed, and property taxes climbed, the Bowman distillery had to move sixty miles south to Fredericksburg. Eventually it was sold to the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace and many other brands of fine whiskey.

John J. Bowman bourbon is triple-distilled — the first two times at Buffalo Trace in Kentucky and the last time in a copper pot still at Bowman. It is then aged in barrels in the Bowman rickhouse in Fredericksburg. The climate of Northern Virginia is similar to that of Kentucky, but more variable, which has an effect on the aging of the whiskey. (Although I couldn't tell you what that is.)

This bourbon has a sweet, lively aroma of caramel and chocolate. The taste is dry and bold, more spicy than sweet. It's moderately hot at 100 proof, but not unpleasantly so. John J. Bowman has lots of flavor and a kick that will warm you down to your cockles. The finish is long and oaky with hints of vanilla. The bottle doesn't have an age statement, but it definitely has some years on it, probably north of ten.

I tend to prefer my whiskey a little less dry, but this is a very interesting spirit. It has a big, bourbon taste that I think a lot of whiskey drinkers are going to love, along with elements that remind me of aged Barbados rum like Mount Gay Extra Old. It's great to see the tradition of fine Virginia bourbon continuing, over two centuries after the colonists first began making it.

Categories
Liqueur Reviews Liqueurs Spirits Reviews

Liqueur Review: Bols Pumpkin Smash

BolsBols Pumpkin Smash
Fruit Liqueur
Final Grade: F
Price: $12 (1L)

If you're anything like me, the idea of a nice, spicy fall-like cocktail sounds delicious. And one of the most quintessentially fall flavors is pumpkin. A pumpkin cocktail sounds great, right?

So around this time last year I headed for the liquor store in search of pumpkin booze. I figured I could whip up a tasty cocktail using it without much trouble.

As you might expect, the pickings are pretty slim. But Bols makes one called Pumpkin Smash. Bols isn't the best producer of liqueurs around, but they're a lot better than most. As bottom-shelf stuff goes, they're usually pretty good.

But not the Pumpkin Smash. It is not pretty good. It is not even a little good. In fact, it can best be described as "foul." Or perhaps "rancid." Even better: "It tastes like something you should never put in your mouth."

I can't tell you exactly what it tastes like, because there's no way I'm trying it again. I recall a sweet chemical-like flavor, utterly lacking in anything resembling pumpkin. It's like the people at Bols declared war on the pumpkin — and royally kicked its ass.

A lot of Bols' other products are good. I use their ginger, banana, peach and some other flavors when I'm not using the more expensive stuff. And I think their Triple Sec is one of the better cheap orange liqueurs.

But if you're looking for an autumn-esque alcoholic treat, look elsewhere. Because this ain't it.

Report Card

Quality Grade: F
Value Grade: F
Final Grade: F

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon

Evan_williams_1783Evan Williams 1783
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A-
Price: $15 (750ml)

The Evan Williams family of whiskeys isn't as well known as some others (like Jim Beam, Jack Daniel's, and Maker's Mark), but it should be, as they make some of the best bourbons for the money that you can find.

Evan Williams 1783 is named for the year in which Williams first established his distillery in Kentucky. It's a small batch version of Evan Williams Black Label that spends some extra time in the barrel. (It used to be labeled as being ten years old, but the distillery has since removed the age statement.)

Its production is overseen by the father-son pair of Master Distillers, Parker and Craig Beam, using (allegedly) the same process and traditional recipe made by the brand’s namesake. Who knows if that last part is true or not. What's certain is that the results are excellent.

The aroma of Evan Williams 1783 is succulent, full of sweet corn and vanilla. The flavor matches the smell, sweet and caramel-like, with some oak, a slight toastiness, and a touch of spice. You can taste the extra aging that this expression gets over the Black Label. It's very smooth, especially for 86 proof, and goes down especially easy with a couple of ice cubes.

Some whiskey drinkers will likely find this too sweet and lacking in the big, bold quality that many bourbons have. But there's so much flavor here, especially for the price, that it demands to be tried at least once.

Fans of softer bourbons like Maker's Mark are especially urged to seek this one out. Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon is a fine-tasting whiskey at an amazing price.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: A
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four_roses_sbFour Roses Single Barrel
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A
Price: $39 (750ml)

The Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is one of the most acclaimed in the world. Their bourbons win gold medals regularly at all the major competitions, and their 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel was recently named by F. Paul Pacult as the 3rd best spirit in the world.

The Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is their highest end whiskey that is regularly available in the United States. Bottled at 100 proof, it's a bold bourbon that is loaded with flavor and enough kick to get you moving.

From the opening sip, it's an explosion on the palate, with many tastes circling around each other. There's vanilla and fruit (cherry maybe?), along with honey and a little spice. It's very well balanced, with the different flavors playing together nicely.

As mentioned above, it's a strong whiskey, and has a long finish to it. It's not overpowering, but it's a spirit you'll want to take your time with, so you can still taste and enjoy the various flavors. You might want to drink it with a little water or a couple ice cubes. I tasted it both straight and on the rocks, and with just a little dilution it goes down very easily.

Everything that Four Roses makes is good, and the Single Barrel is one of their best. It's big and bold, while still maintaining both nuance and even elegance. Distiller Jim Rutledge has once again shown why he's one of the best in the business.

Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Tullamore Dew

Tullamore-dewTullamore Dew
Blended Irish Whiskey
Final Grade: B
Price: $20 (750ml)

Tullamore Dew is an old brand of Irish whiskey, first distilled in Tullamore, Ireland in 1829. It's gone though many changes, owners and locations over the years, and is currently owned by spirits conglomerate William Grant & Sons, makers of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie scotches, amongst other brands. It is currently made at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, although Grant & Sons recently announced plans to build a new distillery in the town of Tullamore.

Tullamore Dew, sometimes referred to as "Original," is the entry-level expression of the whiskey. (There are also 10-year and 12-year-old versions available.) It has a pale-gold color in the glass, accompanied by the sweet, honeyed aroma of cereal grain that fades quickly. So far it is about what you'd expect of a basic blended Irish whiskey — those familiar with Jameson or Bushmills will recognize it.

Those traditional characteristics continue on the palate, with a medium-sweet, honey flavor, with a fair bit of heat on the finish. Tullamore Dew isn't as smooth as most older whiskeys, or those containing a higher proportion of malt whiskey (like my favorite, Bushmills Black Bush), but the finish is quick, so it's not unpleasant to sip. From the taste, I assume this is made with a high percerntage of grain, rather than malt, whiskey.

There really isn't much about Tullamore Dew that is distinctive. The distiller clearly wasn't trying to break any new ground here. Rather it is a well-made, traditional Irish whiskey blended to a middle-of-the-road, but still pleasing, profile. It is a tasty, well-balanced spirit, good enough and affordable enough to drink every day and to mix in the cocktail of your choice.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B
Value Grade: B
Final Grade: B

Categories
Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Denizen Aged White Rum

Denizen Rum is something of a paradox. It’s a Caribbean rum, but it is blended in Europe. It’s an aged rum, but it is crystal clear. It’s a quality rum, but it is sold at a very affordable price. One thing is no mystery, however: this rum is a winner.

Denizen begins with aged Trinidadian rum from the Angostura distillery, which is charcoal filtered to remove all color. It is then blended in the Netherlands with small amounts of 15 different pot-distilled Jamaican rums, giving it much more flavor and body than is typically found in clear rum.

And clear it is. Denizen has a bright, clean appearance, accompanied by a subtle floral, sugar cane aroma. It has a silky, medium-bodied mouthfeel — it’s immediately apparent that this rum hasn’t been distilled to death. There’s still a lot of character here.

The flavor is spicy and dry, only slightly sweet, with a medium-long finish. It definitely has some heat to it that reminds you you’re drinking rum. You can also taste the vanilla and oak that indicate it spent some time in wood.

Denizen is certainly a rum you can sip neat, especially with a couple ice cubes to cool its fire a bit. But it really shines in cocktails. Almost any drink that calls for a white rum, from a Daiquiri to a Mojito to a Piña Colada, will be improved by the use of Denizen rum. Its versatility means you can use it virtually anywhere with good results.

Best of all, this rum won’t break the bank. You can buy a bottle from DrinkUpNY for only $17. Most of the time you can’t even find Bacardi for that cheap, and this rum runs circles around that better-known brand.

Currently, Denizen is only available in New York State, but hopefully they’ll be getting wider distribution soon. This is a rum that’s too good to pass by. [Edit 7/8/14: This rum is now more widely available. Check their website for details.]

Denizen